This morning, I sincerely suggested that there’s no sense in my (or anyone’s) mere rehearsing and re-rehearsing the core evils regularly reflected in our President’s rhetoric, even on the pretext of a new Presidential utterance confirming that he does, indeed, spout racism, xenophobia and misogyny.
This is not more of that.
I read later today a sort of answer to Damon Linker’s question “now what?”, via Bradford Littlejohn, who I admire, but who was a mere auditor, then reporter, of the answer.
[A]lthough I have poured myself into the project of retrieving resources for bold and faithful Christian citizenship for the past ten years, although I have outwardly pooh-poohed counsels of despair and helmed an organization committed to renewing Christian public witness, rather than retreating behind ecclesiastical strongholds, when I’ve been honest with myself, I’ve always said with Boromir, “It is long since we had any hope.”
I suspected that we were entering the twilight years of the American republic, that my children would grow up into a world much darker, more solitary, nastier, and more brutish than I had, and my task was simply to (to quote another favorite Tolkienism) “fight the long defeat” with as much boldness and faithfulness as possible—and build, if perhaps, networks of knowledge and friendship that could survive the dark days ahead.
This pessimism was only in part due to the aggressive crusade against nature and reason that has infected progressivism in the West, and the weakness, corruption, and amnesia in the church. It was also because it seemed clear to me that America lacked—and perhaps had long lacked—a genuine conservative movement in any historically meaningful sense.
But at the National Conservatism Conference this week, I realized for the first time that whatever the virtues and vices of Trumpism, the election of Trump in 2016 had had the effect of a violent earthquake—reducing the previous political categories and expectations to rubble and leaving the field incredibly open to build and think something new. Of course, in such a landscape, gangs are prone to roam and loot, extremism is apt to breed, and our worst impulses can be given free rein. There is no guarantee that anything genuinely constructive can come out of such rubble. But this week at least gave me hope in the possibility.
Based on my reading in preparation for my May trip to the Republic of Georgia, the comment about gangs, looting, and extremism made me think “My gosh! He just described the Republic of Georgia, 1990-2003! And, yeah, it does kind of fit what’s going on in America right now.”
But in 2003, Georgia had its “Rose Revolution” and order was restored in what has become a stable Christian democracy, despite some economic problems. So there really may be some hope.
I’ll let you read Wilcox for a fairly detailed account of what seemed to transpire at the Conference, but one anecdote stood out to me as pretty solid proof that this is Not Your Father’s Conservatism (nor mine).
One hallmark of the conservative “fusionism” of the last 60 years or so has been economic libertarianism, a/k/a “laissez-faire.” A realist might well say (I have no doubt that they do) that “laissez-faire” is a myth, and the reality is an economy designed to serve certain interests, and to disserve others.
The National Conservatism Conference seemingly is ready to drop the pretext, to expel the Libertarians (or at least put them on a short leash), and to entertain (gasp!) explicitly outome-oriented, non-neutral stuff like, for instance, a national Industrial Policy:
[T]he most memorable session of the conference was probably the Monday night public debate between Oren Cass (author of The Once and Future Worker) and Richard Reinsch on the resolution “America Should Adopt an Industrial Policy.” Although excellent arguments were put forward on both sides, Cass’s affirmative ultimately carried the day, 99 to 51—this was not your father’s conservatism. The crucial moment in the debate came in during the section for speeches from the floor, when J.D. Vance [author of Hillbilly Elegy and a growing presence in conservative circles] came up to the microphone and said:
“Near where I live in Silicon Valley, there are neuroscientists paid by Facebook who are hard at work developing horrible apps to addict your children’s brains. Just down the road, there are neuroscientists paid by the National Institutes of Health who are working just as hard on finding cures for dementia. The first group earns about twice as much as the second group. In my mind, this debate is over the question, ’Are we OK with that? And if we’re not, is this a political problem that demands a political solution?”
(Emphasis in original) Sohrab Amari should be pleased.
Note that there likely is no shortage of progressives who likewise “are not OK with that,” at least so far as brainwashing children goes. So the political realignment which I’ve been predicting (it’s hardly rocket science to predict realignment at my high and vague level of generality, folks) could become very interesting and barrier-shattering. (Can you say “strange bedfellows”?)
Littlejohn’s account of the Conference is far and away the most positive I’ve seen yet, and if he were wet behind the ears I’d discount it pretty deeply. But he’s not.
Still, one criticism is captured in the “optics”: “Elite Insurgents at the Ritz” (read the articles linked there, too).
Still another is that Josh Hawley was the only headliner who was an officeholder, the rest being authors, academics, pundits and such. (Can you say “Václav Havel”?)
I think we’re still fairly far from seeing a proof of concept, but with “the field incredibly open to build and think something new,” and with this “something new” fitting America better than the policies of the Robespierre “Squad” of zealous Democrat freshmen, we might see it as soon as Donald Trump finally stands down.
One can hope.
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